Chungking Express

wong kar wai

Chungking Express (重慶森林)
Made in: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese, Mandarin, English
Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Starring: Brigitte Lin, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung, Faye Wong
Year: 1994

Synopsis: This film follows two similar but separate stories about love and loneliness.

First there's the tale of a young Hong Kong cop named He Qiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro), whose girlfriend of five years, May, dumped him on April Fool's Day. Each day he frequents a Circle K convenience store (like the one in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure) and buys a container of canned pineapples, making sure that the expiration date is May 1.

Resolving to eat one can each day until May 1, he promises himself he'll impose an "expiration date" on his heartache, give up on his ex, and move on when the first of May rolls around (which is also his birthday).

All the while He Qiwu frequents a small take-out place called the Midnight Express, owned by a friendly older guy played by Chen Jinquan.

As He Qiwu philosophizes on his situation, a mysterious woman in a blond wig and sunglasses (Brigitte Lin) navigates the criminal underworld of Hong Kong as a drug smuggler. When a major deal goes bad, she goes on the run after shooting her way out of a sticky situation.

While taking refuge at a bar late one night, she encounters the lovelorn He Qiwu. It just so happens that the young cop told himself that very evening that he'll try to fall in love with the first woman he sees that night.

The second story in Chungking Express centers around a beat cop known only to the audience as Cop 633 (Tony Leung). Once happily dating a flight attendant (Valerie Chow), Cop 633 has also been dumped. He also goes to the Midnight Express on his breaks, and encounters the owner's attractive but spacey cousin, Faye (Faye Wong), who's new. Before long Faye becomes secretly attracted to the quiet Cop 633, and after some time, finds out where he lives.

Regularly breaking into his small apartment, Faye begins making small changes to his place. Gradually Cop 633 begins to cheer up as an unconscious reaction to the changes, and begins bonding with his new friend.

The Good: Produced quickly between film projects, Wong Kar-Wai made Chungking Express in a relatively short amount of time. With a very loose script, he is said to have assembled most of the film in the editing room without being certain of how it would turn out.

Knowing this in advance definitely had a positive impact on my viewing experience.

The theme of love, loneliness, and heartbreak is universal, but Wong Kar-Wai tells the story in a way that gives Chungking Express an intimate, genuine feel. The way in which he addresses recurring themes through images, locations, music, and dialogue is very neat and smoothly ties the whole movie together.

The strongest element of all are the small details that Wong concentrates on. Instead of focusing on the more dramatic life-changing moments in the lives of his characters, he instead shows us the very small details that define who they are: things such as habits, items in their living spaces, and quirks. We get such a close-up, specific look at the main characters' lives that we almost regard the actors who play them as friends instead of big name stars.

The Bad: Some of the cinematography is a bit jarring, and the pace was a little slow in the second half. Pretty much knowing where the film would end up, I thought Wong Kar-Wai could have edited the movie down just a little more to get us there sooner.

Who would like this movie: Chungking Express is definitely for you if you're already into foreign films and "artsy" movies. Although anyone can understand the dominant theme of love, this film will probably come across as slow, "weird," and hard to get through if you're just looking for entertainment.

But it's a good one to watch if you're curious about foreign films and are making a concerted effort to give them a try.

Singer Faye Wong does an interesting remake of the song Dreams (by the Cranberries) in Cantonese, which sounds really good and can be heard over the end credits.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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